How the switch to 3-4-2-1 has transformed Liverpool’s season
Liverpool’s remarkable run of form started actually at their worst point of the season – their 3-0 loss to Manchester United. The game against United was the first time Rodgers set out Liverpool in a 3-4-2-1 formation and since that game Liverpool haven’t looked back. Although results haven’t all gone their way, they still remain as the only unbeaten Premier League team in 2015. The devastating precision with which Liverpool used to attack last year is back and their new signings much criticized earlier are starting to show their worth.
The 3-4-2-1 formation has masked Liverpool’s problems in defence and allowed their most creative players time and space to thrive. The two wing/backs and the two number tens have been the most impressive players for Liverpool in recent times and their success is owed to the system. Liverpool have been able to control the midfield, thanks to their “box” of four they always have a spare man in midfield. Without the ball, the front two join the striker and start pressing aggressively, the other two generally Gerrard and Lucas maintain their shape ahead of the back three.
Bringing the best out of Coutinho
Rodgers’ decision to switch to a 3-4-2-1 has brought out the best in Coutinho. He is more and more looking like the player of last season and with Daniel Sturridge coming back, we should see some of the devastating counters of last year’s Liverpool. Moving freely across the pitch(Mainly to the left), Coutinho is getting more time and space on the ball than before. Having another number 10 with him (Lallana/Markovic) helps as a passing option as well as someone who will distract the opposition.
Coutinho’s touches in a 4-3-3 against Chelsea
Coutinho’s touches in a 3-4-2-1 against West Ham
Liverpool’s total touches in both the above-mentioned matches was almost equal but notice how in a 3-4-2-1, Coutinho’s touches are more central and closer to the goal and also are almost double in number. In a 3-4-2-1, Rodgers has effectively freed Coutinho from tracking back duties and allowed him to express himself. This role allows Coutinho and the other number 10 to freely move between the lines on the pitch to find space. Teams playing a single holding midfield are overwhelmed when Liverpool attack due to this movement. Arsenal when they played Liverpool had a lot of trouble because of this as Flamini was their only holding midfielder.
Moreno and Lazar Markovic/Jordan Ibe have performed admirably in recent weeks and play an integral part in Liverpool’s build up play. When faced with a double pivot, the wingbacks are the primary source of the attack as the number 10s are faced with two opposition players. Against Spurs in the 3-2 victory, the most important combination for Liverpool was that of Markovic (as a number 10) and Jordan Ibe.
Ibe and Markovic freely switched positions allowing Ibe to drive through Spurs’s defence. Whenever Ibe made runs on the outside, Markovic made sure that he made runs into the box to connect with Ibe’s numerous crosses. The winner against Spurs was a perfect example of this understanding (Although it was Lallana who replaced Markovic).
Both Bentaleb (one-half of the Spurs double pivot) and Danny Rose are occupied with Jordan Ibe allowing Adam Lallana all the space and time in the world to find Mario Balotelli for the winner.
Liverpool’s defence as a collective unit has improved remarkably after a disastrous start to the season. Emre Can with his ability on the ball is generally the outlet. Skrtel and Sakho have also improved tremendously and have grown confident on the ball.
Alberto Moreno recently told Liverpoolfc.com: “We are playing with three central defenders in addition to the two wingers who help the team by defending and attacking. We’re constantly looking to help the defenders with the assistance of our midfielders – Stevie, Lucas and Hendo mainly.”
“I like this formation as I think it suits the type of players we have very well – and things are unfolding well as a result,” he added. “We’ll continue to improve as a team if we keep doing things as we have.”
3-4-2-1 currently is bringing out the best from Liverpool’s squad, but injuries and the Europa league will test Rodgers. Central midfield is currently the biggest worry with Lucas out injured and Gerrard not having the legs to play 3 games in a week. One option is to push the impressive Emre Can into midfield and hope that Lovren shows some signs of recovery at the back. Moreno, Can, Lallana and Markovic did take time to settle but are now proving their worth and if Lovren and Balotelli do the same, Liverpool have a great chance to gatecrash into the top 4 by the end of the season.